Filing claims and getting paid via smartphone. Photo: Berkshire Hathaway
Most people don’t think of Berkshire Hathaway as a hip modern brand. Warren Buffett is a conservative, patient investor who still owns a flip phone and brags he has sent one e-mail his whole life. What many might not know is that his Berkshire holding company owns a travel-insurance business that is making a mark for itself by offering high-tech, consumer-centric products and services.
Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection (BHTP) was launched in 2014, offering two basic products: AirCare, for all the usual common flight issues like cancelled or delayed flights and baggage protection; and ExactCare, which offers medical evacuations, trip cancellation insurance, and global travel assistance.
BHTP president Dean Sivley said the company’s early product development focused on solving the two main issues preventing three out of four travelers from buying travel insurance: price and the belief that filing a claim is difficult.
BHTP addressed the first issue by providing AirCare at fairly competitive prices. To address the second issue, it invested heavily in mobile technology, offering services like express deposits and smartphone baggage claims.
“We’ve always geared ourselves to appeal to everyone, from technologically-enabled older adults to millennials,” Sivley said. Last fall, BHTP and MasterCard announced an agreement where claim payments can now be made within seconds, sent directly to almost any personal account through a U.S. debit card.
So now, the majority of BHTP claims are paid electronically, and with lightning speed. For example, when TSA security delays recently stranded hundreds at Chicago’s airports, “we had customers who were getting money paid into their bank accounts while their flights were being rebooked.”
New app in the works
BHTP continues to invest in mobile technology and will be releasing a new version of its mobile app in the coming weeks. Sivley previewed some of the new features, including self-service flight rebooking and omni-channel support.
“With our new release, we’ll deal with our customers through whatever means they choose,” he said. “They could start a claim on the web, and then call us on their smartphone. Every interaction will be available to our agents and our system, whatever path the customer is on.”
The company is also upgrading its travel agent portal this summer, to make it easier for travel agencies to sell and service customers. One new feature is aggregated itinerary information to assist the agent in offering the right insurance products, and getting quotes more quickly. Another new feature will allow agents to e-mail insurance notifications directly to travelers.
Micky Dixon, president of Travel Planning for You in San Antonio, TX, has been very pleased with Berkshire’s customer service and agent portal.
BHTP’s agent portal “is similar to a dashboard that allows us to do everything in one place. I’ve been working with them since the launch in 2014 and they’ve been continually contacting us for feedback,” Dixon said. “Using their interface is so much easier than using their competitors. You simply click on the product you’re looking for, enter some info, and you’re finished.”
Additionally, the company is developing products to meet evolving traveler needs. Look soon for niche vacation insurance products covering categories like cruise, bridal, and adventure.
“Let’s say that your cabin isn’t ready when you board your ship,” Sivley said. “The idea is that you could file a claim on your phone and get a payment into your account for things like onboard meals, beverages, or something else that would make your inconvenience different.”
Sivley also described an adventure travel product called Adrenaline Care, for “thrill seekers who need more coverage than traditional travel insurance.” For example, Adrenaline Care would cover the more expensive gear that adventure travelers pack.
Because insurance is regulated at the state level, BHTP is still filing pricing and product terms. “We’re shooting for all products and rates to be filed and available for purchase by the end the year,” said Silvey.
Also look for BHTP to launch global insurance and corporate travel products in the next 6-12 months.